Often times while I’m doing research for a story, I’ll stumble upon something new and get completely sidetracked. Today I was digging for information on the Academy Building when I found the image above. It’s a shot of the Rochester Savings Bank building located at the corner of West Main and Fitzhugh. The Academy Building is to the immediate left of the bank. But forget the buildings for now. Do you see that strange little man standing in the lower left corner of the photo? That was actually a drinking fountain named Cogswell…
According to Wikipiedia, Dr. Henry Daniel Cogswell (March 3, 1820 – July 8, 1900) was a dentist and a crusader in the temperance movement. Cogswell believed that if people had access to cool drinking water they wouldn’t consume alcoholic beverages. It was his dream to construct one drinking fountain for every 100 saloons across the United States; and many were built. In 1883 one was erected in Rochester.
These drinking fountains were elaborate structures designed by Cogswell himself and built of bronze, granite, or sometimes zinc. Like all of his fountains, the one he sent to Rochester was topped with a life-sized statue of a man holding a glass of water in one hand and a copy of the Temperance Pledge in the other. From these photos, Rochester’s fountain appears to have been granite and stood about 15 feet high.
Many people thought the statue depicted Cogswell himself and thus resented its presence. However, the figure was supposed to be a symbolic representation of Temperance . The concept of providing drinking fountains as alternatives to saloons was later implemented by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. And of course in 1919 came prohibition.
These grandiose statues were not well received by the communities where they were placed. Washington, DC’s Temperance Fountain had been called “the city’s ugliest statue.” They even spurred city councils across the country to set up fine arts commissions to screen such gifts. In New York, the Park Commissioners appointed a committee of sculptors to report on which statues in Central Park were “most flagrantly in violation of good art and common sense.” Can you imagine? Public art police!
After just two years, Rochester’s Cogswell fountain disappeared in 1885. This New York Times article from 1894 gives a brief recount of how our fountain was taken down by bandits in the night! Am I reading that correctly? And, after being taken down by bandits, the City ordered the fountain be disposed of.
Cogswell’s fountains can be found today in Washington, DC, Tompkins Square Park New York City, Pawtucket, RI, and Rockville, CT. Other examples were erected and then torn down in Buffalo, Rochester, Boston Common, Fall River, MA, Pacific Grove, CA, San Jose and San Francisco.
Tags: Academy Building, Cogswell Fountain, downtown Rochester, Dr. Henry D. Cogswell, Fitzhugh Street, fountain, Main Street, old photos of Rochester, Powers Hotel, prohibition, public art, Rochester, Rochester history, Rochester NY, Rochester Savings Bank, sculpture, St. Luke's Church, statue, temperance movement, Women's Christian Temperance Union
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